Painting the Desert

April 15, 2022
Painting the Desert



Bugai Whyoulter’s work is fervid, tender, and gestural, marked by riotous use of color and bold distinctive marks. We're honored to share her work on our Limited-Edition Australian Soaps. Proceeds from these soaps go directly to Whyoulter and the Martumili Art Centre.



Bugai Whyoulter



“Defiant and miraculous” is how the Australian press has described Bugai Whyoulter, the Kartujarra artist and senior custodian of the lands surrounding Kunawarritji (Canning Stock Route Well 25). Beginning her professional artistic career in her late 60s, Whyoulter has grown to achieve world-renown as a master of colour, gesture, and subtlety, with self-reflective works that are layered with distinctly delicate brush marks and joyous, brilliant colours that represent the Australian landscape. 


Born in the 1940s at Pukayiyirna, Whyoulter is from the last of the traditional, desert-dwelling Pujiman generation. She grew up living a semi-nomadic lifestyle and developed an intricate knowledge of Martu Country through her travels. Ancestral Jukurrpa, or dreaming stories, inform Whyoulter’s work, and landmarks such as tali (sandhills), pila (sandy plains), warta (trees; vegetation), and water sources feature prominently. The lyinji (clay pan) site of Wantili, on the Canning Stock Route, is of great significance to the artist, for it was here she first saw white people. 


“Bugai...paints around Wantili. She saw whitefellas there for the first time, Canning mob when they were travelling up and down the stock route with the bullock. She was a young girl walking around at Wantili...Canning and his drovers were travelling, making the road. They were running away from those whitefellas, watching them from a long distance. She was a teenager when she was travelling around there with her four mothers and one daddy.”* 


During the rains, Wantili was also an important place for obtaining fresh water for drinking and bathing. At this site, Kartujarra, Manyjilyjarra, Putijarra, and Warnman people would all come together for ceremonies during the Pujiman era. Many jiwa (stones used by women for grinding seeds) from these times can still be found there. 



An irrepressible painter and brilliant colorist, Whyoulter’s work speaks of her intimate and profound connection to the land. Whyoulter’s practice has been described as almost trance-like; the act of painting transporting her to important sites and memories from her land. 




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